Circulation Continues To Slide At Major U.S. Newspapers

Monday, November 5th 2007, 10:52 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Circulation fell 2.6 % at major U.S. daily newspapers in the six months ending in September, according to figures released Monday, the latest decline as readers continue to migrate to the Internet for news, information and entertainment.

In an effort to highlight their own growing presence on the Web, more than 100 large newspapers also began releasing new sets of data for the latest six-month reporting period that measure the size and reach of their online audiences.

USA Today, published by industry leader Gannett Co., kept its place as the largest daily paper in the country and also chalked up a 1 % gain in circulation to 2,293,137 for the six months ending in September, according to preliminary figures filed with the Audit Bureau of Circulations, an industry group based in Schaumburg, Ill.

The Wall Street Journal remained No. 2 in average total paid daily circulation, with 2,011,882, down 1.53 %. The Journal's parent company, Dow Jones & Co., is in the process of being acquired by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. The New York Times was No. 3 at 1,037,828, a decline of 4.5 %.

Newspaper circulation has been eroding steadily over the past twenty years, as reading habits change and as people turn to other media such as cable TV for news. In recent years the declines have been accelerating, especially at large metro papers, where there tends to be greater competition from Internet usage.

There were some exceptions to the rule, including Tribune Co.'s Los Angeles Times, which saw circulation edge up 0.5 % in the latest period to 779,682. In New York, the New York Daily News edged past its longtime rival New York Post, but both papers still saw declines _ 1.7 % for the Daily News, owned by the real estate developer Mortimer Zuckerman, and 5.2 % at the Post, which is owned by Murdoch.

Among larger papers, the only other major daily reporting gains was The Philadelphia Inquirer, which clocked a 2.3 % gain to 338,260, making it the 16th largest paper by circulation. The Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News were bought last year by a group of local business people led by Brian Tierney, a former advertising executive.

According to an analysis of the 538 daily U.S. newspapers that reported average weekday paid circulation to the Audit Bureau, Monday-through-Friday circulation fell 2.6 % in the six month period. For the 609 newspapers reporting Sunday figures, Sunday circulation fell 3.5 %.

With print circulation on the decline and more of their readers going online, many newspaper publishers have been seeking to emphasize their online reach. Revenues from online advertising have also been growing at many publishers, but not enough to make up for the declines in print advertising.

In the data released from the Audit Bureau Monday, 112 major papers began reporting for the first time sets of print and online audience measurements based on surveys done by Scarborough Research. Another 94 smaller papers participated partially in the supplemental reporting method.

The new reporting system was a joint effort by the Newspaper Association of America, a newspaper industry group; Scarborough Research, a syndicated research firm; and members of the Audit Bureau of Circulations, a circulation measurement group whose board includes publishers as well as major advertisers. The new data also presents combined print and online reach.

As an example, The Boston Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co., reported print readership of 1.9 million in its designated market, meaning the number of people who read the paper, not just those who bought it.

Online readership in the market was 1 million, and combined print and online readership number was 2.3 million, which takes into account the overlap of some people who read both print and online versions of the newspapers.

Separately, the Globe also reported a monthly average of 4.2 million unique users on its Web site, but those readers could have been located anywhere in the world. The readership figures only count those located in the Globe's home market of Boston. By comparison, the Globe's print circulation fell 6.7 % in the period to 360,695.

Newspaper publishers argue that they should be measured by the size of their audience, as other media such as television are, rather than the number of units they sell. ``We're trying to supply a richer look at the newspaper audience, and not focus on one single element,'' said John Kimball, chief marketing officer of the Newspaper Association of America.

The Chicago Sun-Times again did not report circulation figures, following its censure in 2004 for misstating circulation figures.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune resumed reporting circulation in the Audit Bureau's twice-yearly survey for the first time since Hurricane Katrina hit the city in the late summer of 2005. The paper reported average weekday circulation of 179,912, down from the last time the paper reported circulation pre-Katrina, with 261,573.